Backstage

The people behind the scenes at TEDGlobal

TEDGlobal staff members take the stage before the last session in Oxford.

TEDGlobal staff members take the stage before the last session in Oxford.

There’s one moment at every TED conference that I simultaneously love and dread: Staff Recognition. It’s a five-minute appearance, usually sometime during the last speaker session, when the people from TED’s New York, Vancouver, and other offices, who’ve been working for months or years on that particular event, all file onstage for the audience to acknowledge.

We usually get the word about an hour beforehand that we’re expected in the lobby, or backstage, or in the left aisle of the theater at 11:00 sharp. It moves to 11:05. We stand around, all a bit on edge, thinking about the last-day-of-TED work we’ve still got to do. We adjust our hair, flip our badges, hold hands with the coworkers from around the world to whom we’re about to say goodbye. We look at one another and at the audience. For some of us, it’s the only quiet time we actually spend in the theater during the conference, a moment of connection with the 700 people who’ve been the focus of our thoughts.

At TEDGlobal in Oxford, 30 or so of us got up onstage during Staff Recognition, with another dozen people from the New York office appearing onscreen. If you were in the audience, thank you for the applause. It means the world to us. If you weren’t in the audience, what we all hope to do at any TED conference is make you feel like standing on your feet and cheering — not for us, but for anything or everything, for the feeling you have after a few days of TED. We work hard to put together a conference that might change the way you think. And for most of us, working here has done the same. Lots of TED staffers are onstage as part of the live conference proceedings. If you were there or watched the live stream, you know the TEDGlobal co-hosts, Bruno Giussani and Chris Anderson. You know June Cohen, the host of TED University and the Sheldonian bonus session on Thursday night. You’ve met Tom Rielly, our satirist, and Katherine McCartney, who talks through the Housekeeping slides on Day One. Lara Stein, Kelly Stoetzel, Amy Novogratz, and Lakshmi Pratury all took the stage to tell you about their TED projects.

Here are some voices from the TED staff that you might not have heard during the conference — some of the people who routinely run around like ninjas to make sure TED is the greatest show on Earth.

Emily McManus is the editor of TED.com.

 
 

Janet McCartney Janet McCartney is the Director of Events for TED. She and her twin sister, Katherine McCartney, are the principals of Procreative Design Works, a conference and event production company based in Vancouver that handles many of TED’s practical details. Janet spent her time at TEDGlobal running among hotels, restaurants, and clubs, overseeing the details of TED’s famous lunches and after-session events.

So what’s it like working with your twin sister?
We try to focus on the benefits of working together. We have different strengths, different soft spots. One of the benefits is that we are like-minded, so in business we are generally headed in the same direction from the starting point.

Do you do something special to prepare, just personally, before a TED?
Conference production works on a bell curve — the closer we get in the ramp-up, the longer and later the hours. At the point of departure, my excitement and anticipation keep me sharp and focused. My best preparation is to have mentally covered every aspect of every area of my responsibility, so that I arrive confident and calm. My reputation for being calm and unstressed is the result of this.

What’s something you bring with you to every TED?
Lots of pockets. I have a ski vest and a pouch purse that accompany me to the conferences to bear a phone and radios. I like to be hands-free as much as possible. Other than that, a sunny disposition goes a long way. Oh, and energy shots.

Define a successful TED for you in six words?
An exultant TED community, no disasters.

 
 

Jason Wishnow Jason Wishnow is TED’s Director of Film + Video. He spent a lot of the time at TEDGlobal in the video truck, watching the feeds from five cameras and making sure the TED team got the shots it needed to turn the live presentations into online TEDTalks.


How did you get into this kind of work?
I met June Cohen, TED.com’s director, at a wedding.

What’s your real job at TED, and what did you end up doing during the conference?
By day, I am the Director of Film + Video for TED, and I am one of the creators of TEDTalks. My role as director is twofold, both as a departmental head and as a filmmaker. I provide general creative input and oversight as to how we shoot each conference in terms of lighting, camera placement, camera movement, and, subsequently, editing, post-production, and post-processing of TEDTalks to bring the presentations from the TED Conference to a wider audience.

What speaker surprised you the most?
Gordon Brown surprised me the most. Unlike most of the attendees of TEDGlobal, I knew in advance that he was attending, so his surprise appearance is not at all what I found jarring. Rather, I was overwhelmed by just how well he nailed the format of the TEDTalk. He was riveting, his speech was emotionally and intellectually charged, and he demonstrated himself to be a thoughtful, forward-thinking statesman. His speech reached beyond petty political boundaries, and his message is very contemporary. It’s exciting to see a world leader acknowledging and understanding the changing face of media and the importance of extending a hand beyond isolationist borders.

Define a successful TED for you in six words.
You walk away from it elated.

 
 

Leigh Ferreira Leigh Ferreira led the New York-based social media effort at TEDGlobal. Waking up at 3:30 a.m. in Manhattan to catch the 8:30 a.m. session in Oxford, she plugged into the @TEDGlobal Twitter stream and talked with people who tweeted comments, complaints, suggestions, love.


How did you get into this kind of work?
I worked at a small boutique agency in San Francisco called CKS Partners during the early Internet boom days, and I was lucky enough to work on the Apple account. The early days of the Web and incredible work we did for Apple hooked me on the digital world/technology for life! I had no idea the ride would be as crazy as it was (five mergers in six years, surviving 18 rounds of layoffs, company bankruptcy). Quite a chapter in my life. I’m happy that the agency/dotcom boom-and-bust experience brought me to a saner, more manageable place. TED is the perfect combination of creativity, technology, and purpose.

What’s your real job at TED, and what did you end up doing during TEDGlobal?
I’m the Digital Partnerships Manager. My job is to bring TEDTalks to the world (outside of TED.com). We’ve been working with some great partners to bring TEDTalks to people based on their media habits (podcasts, mobile apps, video sites, etc.). Twitter and Facebook exploded with excitement at the start of TEDGlobal, so I quickly took on the Community Manager role. I worked hard to answer questions, offer reference materials, and work with the editorial team to provide a real-time account of the event and some behind-the-scenes tweets. I loved the feedback we received from followers (both positive and constructive).

What was your favorite Twitter moment during TED?
Emmanuel Jal’s talk/performance was hands-down the most powerful moment. It was amazing to see tweets about people’s reactions, such as: @kn0thing #TED is purportedly a place for inspiration, not for a dance party — Emmanuel Jal showed it can be both. He’s absolutely inspiring / @TED-Global In the audience / @ #TED: @frogdesign, Chee Pearlman, @tedglobal rush the stage for Emmanuel Jal / @emmanueljal Just want to say thank you to all who attended my speaking at TED. Your support was amazing / @TEDGlobal is the bomb.

Q: Define a successful TED for you in six words.
Being inspired, laughing and crying in five minutes.

 
 

Shanna Carpenter Shanna Carpenter writes for the TED.com Web site. Working out of the New York office, she was a member of the TED Blog team: four writer/editors who took shifts posting and tweeting about each speaker in each session. It was a mammoth job with weird hours (she developed jet lag from the 3:30 a.m. wakeup). The payoff: People who couldn’t come to TED or watch the Associates feed could follow the conference almost-live, based on the team’s coverage.

How did you get into this line of work?
Actually, before I came to TED, I thought I was trying to veer away from this line of work. After my undergrad in communication, working as a reporter in Trinidad and a few PR internships, I had become convinced that although I loved media I couldn’t find meaning in the work. So, at the time that I started becoming interested in TED, I was pursuing a masters in higher education administration and running a leadership course at my university. To me, TED was a combination of all the things I love. When I was given an opportunity to do some minor copy editing for TED, I jumped at the chance. When that turned into an offer to come work in the New York headquarters after my graduation, I immediately took that opportunity as well.

What’s your real job at TED, and what did you end up doing during the conference?
My real job at TED is working in the editorial department, writing copy for the Web site and the program guides, blogging and communicating with our community through social media. During the conference, that’s exactly what I continued to do. Along with the rest of the editorial team, I worked to keep the blog filled with running notes of all the speakers and what people were saying on Twitter, and I tried to do it in as close to real time as possible.

What speaker surprised you the most?
Emmanuel Jal was the most surprising for me. I was interested to hear his music after hearing his life story, but I didn’t expect his time onstage to be so deeply moving. I didn’t think he would speak so personally about his experiences, and I didn’t expect him to be doing so much to help his fellow Sudanese. I didn’t know anyone could be so joyful and so emotionally raw at once.

Define a successful TED for you in six words.
We all come away as changed people.

 
 

Mike Femia Mike Femia is TED’s Photo Editor. He spent most of TEDGlobal in the media cave on the second floor of the Randolph Hotel, sorting through the thousands of photos that came in from the two official photographers, James Duncan Davidson and Robert Leslie, and from attendees via photo@ted.com. If you saw a photo from TEDGlobal in the newspaper or on the TED Blog, Mike helped put it there.

How did you get started doing this kind of work?
I sort of fell into doing photo editing on publicity campaigns for film studios in Los Angeles and discovered I really liked it (photo editing, not publicity). So I moved to New York and was lucky enough to fall into a photo editor role at TED.

What’s your real job at TED, and what did you end up doing during the conference?
My real job at TED is Image Production and Photo Editing. That’s what I end up doing during the conference as well, but I’m managing many more photos and distributing them on a much more urgent basis.

About how many minutes did you spend watching TEDGlobal?
Unfortunately, close to zero!

Define a successful TED for you in six words.
Great talks, great people, great photos.

 
 

Michael Glass Michael Glass is the Production Director for TED.com. During TEDGlobal, he lived in the back of the media cave in a second-floor room at the Randolph Hotel, overseeing a team of video and photo specialists who worked more or less around-the-clock to deliver photos and encoded video to the TED stage and to the world. He never, ever left that room.

How did you get into this kind of work?
Basically, I fell in love with E.T., the movie, as a kid. I also obsessed over all these little machines my dad got me, the Commodore 64, Intellivision; I kind of never left those two areas, film stuff and computer stuff. In college, I studied symbolic systems, which combined psychology, linguistics, philosophy, and computer science. Then I went to graduate school for film. When I left graduate school, to decompress I went and worked at a computer repair place, Tekserve, where I got really immersed in tech things. I went from graduate school at NYU to a $10/hour Tekserve job, and that sort of converged and led me to TED. I had this casual interest in all things Technology, Entertainment, and Design, and then, if “tornadoed” were a verb, they all kind of tornadoed into this job.

What’s your real job at TED, and what did you end up doing on-site?
I’m the Production Manager, so I do everything from acting as a traffic cop to requests that are related to video pre-production and post-production ... my job in short is managing the technical aspects of video post-production and image production. And on-site, I actually did the same thing, in terms of setting up work flow, troubleshooting, designing work-arounds — however you describe middle management, that’s my deal. At TED, I just, you know, stayed up later and had to move faster.

What were some of the problems you had to solve backstage?
We had a few, but a memorable one was dealing with bandwidth. Where we were set up, we had bandwidth that was equivalent to what I had on my Commodore 64 growing up: 2400 baud. We had all these different ideas to get more bandwidth, and finally we found that in the ballroom beneath us they had a faster connection. So we strung an Ethernet cable out the second-floor window and down through the window of the ballroom, and plugged it into their Ethernet jack so we could get a stronger signal.

Define a successful TED for you in six words.
Invigorating. Overwhelming. Funny. Sincere. Challenging. Exotic.

 
 

Jill Greenwood Jill Greenwood, of the Vancouver office, was the Speaker Concierge for TEDGlobal, arranging travel and lodging for the speakers and performers from around the world. She’s part of the procreation team that made sure everyone’s experience on-site was perfectly smooth.


How did you get started doing this kind of work?
I had a personal desire to be part of something, if only initially in a small way, that had meaning and purpose in this world. For many years I was the director of marketing for Tourism Whistler (a mountain resort in British Columbia), and it catered to my penchant for creativity, attention to detail, strategic planning, and, most importantly, my continued desire to create memorable experiences for people. Being able to apply these elements to my role in something as significant and life-changing as TED is more than satisfying.

What’s your real job at TED, and what did you end up doing during the conference?
At previous TEDs, I oversaw all of the security and staffing programs, but in Oxford (for TEDGlobal), I took on the new role of Speaker Concierge. In the weeks leading up to the conference, I handled all of the speakers’ travel arrangements and coordinated a lot of logistics!

Tell me a story from TEDGlobal that sticks with you after two weeks.
One of our speakers was incredibly nervous and anxious about their upcoming presentation, to the point of being reclusive for the two days leading up to their talk. I worried for them that their presentation might just flop. When the moment came for them to deliver their talk, I couldn’t believe how terrific they were. Immediately following their session, the speaker found me at my desk and proceeded to give me a huge bear hug, a big beaming smile on their face. In place of the distant, solemn person I had known was a glowing, vibrant, beautiful being — so relieved, but also so evidently proud of themselves for having gotten over what was, to them, a very major hurdle. It’s amazing to bear witness to that kind of personal epiphany — it totally made my day!

Define a successful TED for you in six words.
Happy delegates. Beautiful camaraderie. No rain.

The Substance of Things Not Seen

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